Duke Kahanamouku

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The God of Aloha

If I took the pineapple wedge out of my mai tai and chucked it off my lanai on the 27th floor of the Hyatt Regency Waikiki (which, of course, I would never do), with just a little luck I’d tattoo the bronze head on the lei-draped statue of Duke Kahanamouku who, it seems to me, holds more mana, or spiritual power, than any kahuna, past or present, in all of Hawaii. Despite the fact that The Duke, known as the “father of modern surfing,” died 31 years ago last month.

photos by David Lansing

photos by David Lansing

It’s amazing how many people I’ve watched sidle up to The Duke and touch his bronze legs shyly or lewdly or reverentially, depending on their persuasion, just about every hour of the day and night.

When I first saw the throngs of people having their photo taken while standing next to him, I figured he was just the Mickey Mouse of Honolulu; a popular icon whose photo proved to the folks back home that they’d really been to Waikiki.

But I think there’s more to it than that. The Duke is the real “Ambassador of Aloha.” Not the aloha of hello and goodbye but the aloha of love, compassion, kindness, grace—the aloha of life.

That’s why you see so many people—particularly women—bring fresh flower leis every morning and put them on his outstretched arms. That’s why every Gidget and Grem from Toledo wants their mom or dad to take a photo of them standing next to The Duke.

He’s not a Hawaiian Mickey Mouse; he’s a Hawaiian god. The god of aloha.

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